Shannon Szabados has her eye on a starting job this season, but that doesn’t mean she’ll have to leave the SPHL to play in either of North America’s women’s leagues.
In an interview with the Edmonton Journal’s Jim Matheson, Szabados said she was given the opportunity to join the NWHL — the newest professional women’s league in North America and one that will pay its players — but she has instead chosen to return to the Columbus Cottonmouths for her second full season in the men’s league.
“I definitely thought about (the NWHL),” Szabados told Matheson. “I wasn’t contacted directly by a team, but I was by the league. I got all the information about the draft and signing up and, yeah, I read it all.”
It’s not hard to believe Szabados, 29, wants the shot to keep playing against the men, though. Four times in her career, she has been a trailblazer, becoming the first woman to suit up in men’s leagues on four occasions.
It started early when she became the first woman to play in Canadian Junior A and the AJHL when she played for the Sherwood Park Crusaders in 2002-03. That same season she also got a crack at playing one game for the WHL’s Tri-City Americans. She broke the gender barrier in the SPHL little more than a decade later, becoming the first woman to both sign and play in the league, and she seems content to stay a Cottonmouth.
“I was happy where I was last year with my team and the amount of playing time,” Szabados told Matheson. “We played 56 games in our league and I started 25 of them. Me and (Andrew Loewen) almost split the games last year, but he’s not returning.”
That he’s not returning should open up conversation for Szabados as the Cottonmouths’ starting netminder. In her 25 starts this past season, Szabados finished with a record of 15-9-1 and posted a 3.12 goals-against average and .907 save percentage. Those were vast improvements over her 2013-14 3.55 GAA and .894 SP.
In the SPHL, Szabados faces competition that is roughly one step below the AHL, as the SPHL often has players called up to play in the ECHL. And with the shorter schedule, she has time to train and prepare if she wants to participate in the 2018 Olympics. Szabados, already a two-time Olympic gold medalist, told Matheson getting to the next games is her goal.
As for the NWHL, Szabados didn’t rule it out forever — just for now.
“It’s exciting for women’s hockey,” Szabados told Matheson. “The girls will get paid and have a lifestyle. … I don’t know if it’s enough to fully live on, but it’s better than what we’ve been getting.
“I’m excited to see where the league goes. I may look at it down the road.”